In-synch with everything else in 2020, writing MRS Awards entries this year was a different experience for Jack Miles at Northstar Research.

We’ve entered the MRS Awards for the last 9 years. But this year we noticed differences in the MRS Awards’ purpose, the people involved in them, producing the entries, what propels us to enter and the party that celebrates them.

Purpose – new value

The MRS Awards’ main purpose is that they let us evaluate the value our sector creates. But value is an ever changing concept. And what value means in 2020 differs to what it meant in 2019.

Given society’s current upheaval, value’s changing nature meant that in 2020 we needed a different lens to assess our work’s value – how research supports society is now as important as how much it supports balance sheets. Value’s changing nature alters how we view agency’s value as an employer too. A workplace is now less about training and retention – it’s more about openness, diversity and creating a psychologically safe environment than ever before.

Looking at our work (and workplace’s) purpose like this isn’t just about assessing the past. It’s about inspiring for the future. And in these trying times, finding inspiration for how research can do more, for more people, in more ways, is a good thing. 

People – nudges and judges

Never is an MRS Awards entry one person’s work. Client collaborators, co-authors, copywriters and proof-readers aplenty help write the entries. And this didn’t change in 2020. However, what changed were the audience considerations – the centrepiece for all communications. And the MRS Awards’ audience are the all-important judges.

In 2020, the considerations about how judges read entries shifted. We now had to assume judges may not be able to print entries, that they’d read papers after their 7th Teams meeting that day and were suffering from screen fatigue.

And we weren’t competing against other papers for the judge’s attention. In 2020, the competition was stiffer – home distractions, home schooling and (albeit lesser competition) another government broadcast/data-viz masterclass.

To nudge judges from an entries’ first letter to the final full stop meant titles had to scream READ ME!. Subtitles had to ooze clarity. And 200 word summaries had to win attention like never before. 2020’s MRS Awards entries had to work harder to win the war of attention like no other year’s entries have.

But winning attention isn’t enough. Nowhere near enough. MRS Awards entries need to win judge’s minds too. Something typically done by showing creativity and proving impact.

However, 2020’s economic conditions have caused many to go ‘full gas’ on sales and promotion. This meant a more subtle and engaging form of entry writing had a place in 2020’s MRS Awards. 2020 has been the year of the bad news story. The MRS Awards entries are an opportunity for judges to read good news stories. This meant engaging, personable and as subtle promotional tone as possible were the order of the day.

Production – the power of ‘off’

Rory Sutherland rightly says:

“The problem is that, before writing anything worthwhile, you must spend at least an hour staring into space. This is almost impossible in a modern office.”

Writing MRS Awards entries are as worthwhile as it gets. And therefore, need hours of staring time. But that’s not easy. Historically, many barriers to writing MRS Awards entries existed – namely impromptu meetings and visitors to your desk. However, 2020’s remote working reality meant these barriers could be overcome by pressing an ‘off’ button on work devices. Even better, silence and forced focus replaced them. 

Research and researcher’s absence from our writing environment made writing clearly and simply easier too. We’re products of our environment. And so is our writing. This meant explaining complex methodologies simply while telling not selling why you should win became easier because writing this year’s entries took place in more relaxed surroundings.

Propulsion – winning doesn’t matter

Entering the MRS Awards requires drive. They’re fantastic, but writing entries is hard work. Historically, this drive came from a desire to get work recognised. But not this year.

In 2020, the MRS Awards aren’t about winning or recognition. Yes, you just read that.

In 2020, the drive to enter the MRS Awards was about positivity. To create a feel good factor within our business. To remind us that despite economic turmoil, research makes a difference. And the positivity and confidence this creates will keep us marching through C-19’s troubled waters.

Party – the remote researchers rave

The MRS Awards culminates in a now traditional December celebration. This year will be different – a virtual affair. Sadly, this means we won’t be able to catch-up with old colleagues and clients.

However, I’m sure researcher’s front rooms will be a hive of excitement come 7 December. There’s positives here too. At least you don’t have to worry about making the last train home on a cold Monday night or how to expense that final round of shots….

Enough about change. Here’s to the MRS Award’s permanent legacy

Much about entering the MRS Awards has been different this year. What’ll the MRS Awards 2021 be like? Who knows? And frankly, right now, who cares.

But one thing about the MRS Awards will always hold true. They’ll always be a fantastic learning process that culminates in our sector showing why we matter.

“See you” on 7 December.

Register for free to watch the MRS Awards broadcast here and see the finalists here.

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